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Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Manufacturing Research (ICMR2013), Cranfield

University, UK, 19th 20th September 2013, pp 201-206

STRATEGIES FOR IMPLEMENTING ACTIVITY-BASED COSTING IN THE UK


MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY

Wai M. Cheung
Swee L. Tan
Kian Tan
Caroline Sutton
Northumbria University
Faculty of Engineering and Environment
Department of Mechanical and Construction Engineering
Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 8ST, UK
wai.m.cheung@northumbria.ac.uk

ABSTRACT
The purpose of this paper is to report the findings with a case study on why activity based costing
lacks impact in the UK manufacturing industry. Activity based costing was performed on selected MT
range subsystems of an electrical power generator to compare with the current UNN UKs conventional costing system. The results have found that the current costing system works well for the MT
products and thus change of costing system is not necessary for these products. The activity based
costing system can be partially implemented in UNN UK for areas requiring detailed costing information such as new renewable products. Based on the result of the case study, this paper also highlights the strategies need to be considered in order to adopt activity based costing within a typical
manufacturing environment.
Keywords: Activity Based Costing, Conventional Costing Method, Strategies of implementing ABC
in the manufacturing industry.
1

INTRODUCTION

Managers in many organisations have found that traditional costing methods are no longer able to
cope with the change in information required by company management. Many companies found that
traditional accounting methods were too late, too aggregated and too distorted to support decision
making in costing (Spedding and Sun, 1999). Although the potential benefits of Activity Based Costing (ABC) systems were widely discussed (Bharara and Lee, 1996; Rezaiea et al, 2008), interestingly,
the overall adoption rate of ABC system in UK is relatively low (Askarany and Yazdifar, 2012). This
issue led researchers into investigation for the reasons of low adoption rate. One possible cause could
be the contingency factors where the organisation characteristics might affect the adoption decision of
ABC. This alone is not sufficient to explain the low adoption rate of the ABC system. Implementation
issues such as technical and non-technical factors could also affect the decision for implementing the
ABC system. Therefore, the focus of this paper is to demonstrate and discusses the differences between the ABC and Standard Costing methods using a case study approach.
2

FACTORS AFFECTING ABC IMPLEMENTATION IN MANUFACTURING


INDUSTRY

The common factors affecting the adoption of an ABC system can be categorised into (i) contingency
factors and (ii) technical factors (Chenhall, 2003; Fei and Isa, 2010a).

Cheung, Tan, Tan and Sutton


2.1

Contingency factors

There are a small percentage of organisations have adopted ABC in the UK. A possible explanation
for this can be related to the contingency theory. According to (Chenhall, 2003), in this theory, an organisational design depends on contingency factors such as environmental uncertainty and organisational size. The theory has been widely applied in managing costing system design (Chenhall, 2003;
Fei and Isa, 2010b). Chenhall (2003) claimed that top management was unlikely to adopt costing systems that did not help to improve performance. Looking from the perspective of contingency theory,
adoption of ABC in organisations depends on particular factors or variable of the organisation, and
these can be categorised as contingency factors and technical factors. In general, the contingency factors consist of (i) organisation size, (ii) type of competition, (iii) product complexity and diversity,
(iv) organisation strategy, (v) organisation structure, (vi) organisation culture and (vii) national culture
while the implementation issues include (a) technical factors, (b) top management support, (c) organisation internal politics and (d) economic rationale.
2.2

Technical factors

During the early research on success factors of ABC implementation, researchers believed that the
barriers and difficulties for ABC implementation were primarily due to the technical factors
(Anderson, 1995). According to authors Cohen et al, (2005), Sartorius et al, (2007) and Fei and Isa
(2010a, 2010b), these technical difficulties include:
(i) defining the scope of the model
(ii) identifying the main activities
(iii) cost drivers selection
(iv) problems in gathering cost data
In addition, there are strong evidences suggested that failure in ABC implementation could be related
to lack of support from top management (Anderson et al, 2002). Brown et al, (2004) explained that
support from top management could reduce the level of uncertainty of the project as access to resources would become available and management of barriers across organisational boundaries would
also increase, making the adoption of ABC easier.
3

IMPLEMENTING THE CASE STUDY

Top management usually considers implementing ABC for the following reasons: (i) increase competition in the market place, (ii) the need to reduce production cost, increase overhead activities and
overhead costs, (iii) changes in the nature of product cost and structure of overhead cost. Nevertheless, the contingency factors alone are insufficient for explaining all factors that affect the adoption of
ABC. The implementation issues should also be taken into consideration. These include technical difficulties, lack of top management support, organisational internal politics and economical rationale.
3.1

The Case study

MT Range products in power generator (MT11 and MT18) were selected for ABC calculation and
synthetic data were used in the case study to protect confidentiality. In this case study, ABC calculation was computed for comparison against the conventional costing method used by UNN UK. The
most common product within the ranges of MT11 and MT18 was determined to represent the MT11
and MT18 products. They were MTI114E1 and MTI184E1. According to Innes et al (2000), there are
four major steps in the application of ABC.
Identify the main activities
Kaplan and Anderson (2004) suggested the major approach for identifying main activities is to prepare a standard activity dictionary which would captures and lists all activities performed within an
organisation.
Cost the activities
After the process of identifying activities, costing the activities is the next task. For activities requiring
machining, they were usually monitored by the number of machine use per hour. If these could not be
monitored, an estimate from a well knowledgeable employee would be used. For activities sharing a
common resource, the cost would be apportioned according to the extent of use. As UNN UK produces a wide range of products, some of the activities in the MT range share the same resources with
other products. Among all the activities identified, resources for MT Rotor, MT Stator and MT As-

Cheung, Tan, Tan and Sutton


sembly were not shared. However, other activities were sharing the same resources and expenses with
other products. Thus, estimated percentages from the overall overhead costs were used for assigning
costs to the activities in those departments.
Select cost drivers
Lee and Kao (2001) defined cost drivers as factors that drove the cost of operational activities. Cost
driver could also be defined as a variable which is a denominator in the rates when applying activity
cost to products .
Apply cost driver rates to products
Finally, the cost driver rate for each activity is multiplied to the volume of cost driver units consumed
by each activity. The total overhead cost for both MT 11 and MT 18 products are shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Total overhead cost
Annual Driver
Volume

Activities (MT)
Contract preparation
Material handling
Storage
Engineering process (MT
Rotor)
Engineering process (MT
Stator)

Cost Drivers (MT)


Number of product orders
Number of work hours
Storage size (square
meter)
Number of machine hours
Number of machine hours

Engineering process (MT


Assembly)

Number of machine hours

Quality Assurance
Logistic

Number of inspection and


test
Number of product orders

Maintenance
Warehousing
Training

Number of maintenance
work orders
Space size
Number of training

Cost
Driver
Rate
1.50
1.80

Total overhead costs

MT11

MT18

MT11

MT18

3,000
2,000

5,000
3,000

4,500
3,600

7,500
5,400

3.29

1,500

2,000

4,929

6,571

9.98

5,000

10,000

49,897

99,794

8.12

5,000

12,000

40,598

97,434

15.92

5,000

10,000

79,577

159,155

102,557

158,964

50,909

89,091

242,851

376,420

2,000

11,200
2,580

22,400
3,998

Total

593,197

1,026,727

25.45

2,000

11.20

1,000

3,500

The overhead cost for both MT 11 and MT 18 was calculated as shown in Table 2 (a). The total production cost for both products are shown in Table 2 (b). The formula for calculating the unit production overhead is shown as follow:
Unit ProductionOverhead

Annual OverheadCost

(1)

Annual Productionof Mach

Table 2: (a) Unit production overhead; (b) Unit production cost

MT11
MT18

Annual
Production
of Machines
3,000
5,000

Annual
Unit
Overhead Production
Cost () Overhead ()
593,197
197.73
1,026,727
205.35

MT11 ()

MT18 ()

Direct Material

500

850

Direct Labour

100

150

Production
Overhead

197.73

205.35

Total unit cost

797.73

1205.35

Cheung, Tan, Tan and Sutton


3.2

Comparison of ABC and Standard Costing methods

Table 3 compares the overhead and production costs between the ABC and Standard Costing systems.
The overhead costs for MT 11 and MT18 are calculated by ABC which are 6.41% higher and 2.5%
lower compared to those calculated on the standard costing system.

Table 3: Unit overhead and production costs

Standard Costing System

MT11
Overhead Cost
()
185.1

MT18
Overhead Cost
()
210.6

MT11
Unit production cost
()
784.20

MT18
Unit production cost
()
1211.40

197.73

205.35

797.73

1205.35

Activity Based Costing

The differences in unit production cost between the two costing methods for MT11 and MT18 are
1.7% higher and 0.5% lower respectively. The results from both costing methods are generally very
similar and there is no significant difference in the unit production costs between both costing methods. Figure 1 shows the annual production cost for both MT11 and MT18. The ABC system has
demonstrated an under-costing of 40,590 for MT11 and an over-costing of 30,250 for MT18.
MT11/MT18 Annual Production Cost
7000000
Annual Production Cost ()

6057K 6,026K

6000000
5000000
Standard
Costing
System

4000000
3000000

2,352K 2,383K

ABC
System

2000000
1000000
0
MT11

MT18
Product

Figure 1: Annual production costs


3.3

Case Study Findings

The application of the ABC system has reassured the appropriateness of using the Standard
Costing system in UNN UK.
ABC system provides a better visibility and insight which allows the UNN UK top management to monitor the companys process and activity costs.
The information acquired from the ABC calculation also helps the top management to identify potential cost reduction opportunities to improve decision making.

RECOMMENDED STRATEGIES FOR IMPLEMENTING ABC


(i)

(ii)

Changes will have an impact on most employees. Strong and valid rationale is required to
convince all employees to accept the change. This can be related to the national culture of
low power-distance and individualism in the UK.
Communication to all levels of employees is very important and their opinions have to be
taken into account. This increases the difficulties for implementing a change. Ineffective

Cheung, Tan, Tan and Sutton


communication among all levels of employees may lead to organisation internal politics.
Employees may resist changing when they are in doubts of the intention of the change.
(iii)
Major technical issues for adopting ABC include:
Compatibility with the current manufacturing system and IT infrastructures.
The complexity of ABC system
Difficulties in identifying the main activities, cost drivers and challenges for costing the
activities accurately.
In addition, ABC system consumes more time in data collection and interpretation and this
may delay the decision making. Compared to ABC system, Standard Costing system is a
simpler method that provides valuable information in a shorter time.
(iv)
High level of commitments from all levels of employees is necessary to successfully implement the ABC system. The affordability for all resources to implement ABC is also an
issue itself. UNNs organisation culture of attention to detail in preference to innovation
implies the less likelihood for ABC Implementation.
Overall, the results from ABC calculation have confirmed that the Standard Costing system in UNN
works well for MT11 and MT18 products. This relieves the doubt about the accuracy of overhead cost
for these two products. ABC system can be partly implemented to complement the Standard Costing
system particularly in the areas requiring detailed information such as new products development for
gaining better appreciation and more benefits to the business.
5

CONCLUSIONS AND FURTHER WORK

One of the main reasons that ABC system has not been adopted in UNN is the lack of interest for the
ABC system by the top management. The Standard Costing system works well for the size of this
company because most products are manufactured in similar ways. The current system is capable of
providing valuable information for competing in quality and services because the main costs are material costs (copper and steel).
Recommendations for further work, for example:
Perform ABC calculation for all ranges of products, especially new emerging products to better understand the cost structure.
Manually identify the cost drivers which are not available from the current costing system
Increase the sample size of the questionnaires to include more departmental managers as well
as lower level employees within the company.
Both the contingency factors and implementation issues are under investigation involves collaboration with a global leading power generator manufacturer, UNN UK. The study attempts to explore
in depth the factors that affect the decision for implementing the ABC system against the conventional
costing system (Standard Costing) through conducting questionnaires and semi-structure interviews
with six key stakeholders within UNN.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The authors would like to thank the industrialist. Without their support, this work would not be possible.
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